Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Monday, February 12, 2007

And I Am Telling You...

Last night I finally went to see the film "Dreamgirls" after all my pre-viewing ravings (that's "positive" ravings as opposed to "mad-man" ones). As a thinly veiled biopic of Diana Ross and The Supremes I'd been looking forward to this one a lot.

And my verdict? Good but not brilliant.

For starters, the characterisation was rather weak. Sadly, I found the three girl group characters to be more ciphers than fully rounded people. Only Effie - a rousing, ball-busting debut from newcomer Jennifer Hudson - emerged with any real personality and easily stood out from the others.

Beyonce Knowles, playing the Diana Ross-type character, Deena Jones, was actually pretty vacuous and disappointing in her role. I don't think this was a case of lack of acting ability (Ms Knowles was brilliant and sassy as Foxy Cleopatra in "Goldmember") but was more down to the weak script. In real life Diana Ross has been well known for being a career-driven, self-serving diva and all-round bitch. She pushed and shoved her way to the position of lead vocalist of The Supremes, not caring one jot about who got trodden on in the process. The result being that the group was renamed "Diana Ross and The Supremes", with the other girls (Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson) relegated to the roles of mere backing singers. In "Dreamgirls", Deena is picked to become lead singer of "The Dreams", which greatly upsets Effie, but there's none of the ruthlessness and selfishness that Diana was meant to possess - Deena is TOLD this is going to happen rather than really WANTING it. She certainly doesn't come across as some kind of self-serving bitch, just someone who got lucky at the right time.

There is SOME sense of conflict of interest amongst the girl group, but most of this stems from Effie's rebellious character - probably the best scene in the movie is the number "It's All Over", in which the girls and their male producers turn on Effie in a bid to outst her from the group. There's some brilliant dialogue, mostly sung (okay I've nabbed this bit from Lubin Odana as I agree it's ace):

Michelle: Now you watch your mouth, watch your mouth, Ms. Effie White. 'Cause I don't take that talk from no second-rate diva, who can't sustain.

Effie: I'm not feeling well. I've got pain.

Everyone: Effie, we all got pain!

If you want to read the rest of the exchange, it's

A great scene, I just wish there'd been more bits like this!

I also found the way the women defer to the male characters a lot of the time rather annoying (lots of "You are my man" type speeches!) but in fact this was probably a sign of the times. In the movie the recording industry is controlled and run by men, which was also how things were in real life. Curtis Taylor, Jnr (well played by Jamie Foxx) is clearly based on Berry Gordy - Gordy was a key player in the Motown record label who was largely responsible for the Supremes' success and also had an affair with Diana Ross - and Curtis' music empire in the film closely resembles Motown. Whilst it's empowering to see a recording company dedicated to cultivating and promoting black artistes, in other respects it's quite depressing to see how the women must stay largely subservient and dependent on their male bosses (in some cases having to sleep with them) in order to achieve any kind of fame or success.

In other ways though the film massively sugars a potentially bitter pill - as many know, after leaving the Supremes, Florence Ballard had drink and drugs problems, failed in her bid to launch a solo career and died prematurely. But in the movie - SPOILER AHEAD FOLKS! - this doesn't happen. Instead Deena finds out that Effie's career was nipped in the bud (she happens upon a copy of Effie's debut record which was pulled from distribution - HOW fortunate!) and Effie gets her much-deserved redemption. In the film's finale, the Dreams welcome Effie back into the fold for one final performance, to an ecstatic audience reception. Okay, quite heart-warming stuff but also a massive cop-out. The film seems to want to have its cake and eat it - the self-seeking band that forces the girl out in a dog-eat-dog world turns out to be not so nasty after all and everyone lives happily ever after. It would have been a far more powerful indictment of the music business and everything that goes with it if Effie had died at the end. Then Deena might have realised the error of her ways. Or not.
WHY couldn't the movie have the courage of its convictions? And WHY do Americans always insist on sickly sweet, happy endings?

Before I run the risk of sounding like a total whinging ninny, I DID find lots of things to enjoy in the film. Nearly all of the songs were excellent and performed with real verve and gusto by the women, who are undoubtedly all gifted vocalists. Jennifer Hudson is a real find with a voice that could blow the roof off the Empire State Building (even when standing on the ground floor). Her rendition of "And I Am Telling You" is amazing and I also loved "One Night Only" , the song intended to relaunch Effie's solo career but which ends up getting hijacked to become a Dreams track and is given the disco treatment!!

There was also great cinematography and choreography and the women looked stunning. The only thing that was slightly misleading were the outfits worn by the female cast which sometimes made the time period difficult to establish. Although the film started off in the 1960s by the end it wasn't altogether clear what decade we were in - some of the Dreams' clothes and hairstyles were very modern looking!

Ultimately I think that "Dreamgirls" had a hollowness at its core. The viewer just didn't get a strong enough sense of where the women were coming from - their personal backgrounds, who they were, their desires, motivations and need to get ahead - all of this was to a large extent glossed over. The film as a whole was very "surface". An entertaining but shallow experience.

Three stars for the movie, four-five stars for the songs. I expect I'll get the soundtrack at some point though. I can just see me and my mates acting out "It's All Over" in the lounge.

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  • At 2:57 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    I haven’t seen the film so I’m not an expert but, from the clips I’ve seen, I get the feeling Beyonce’s singing style is anachronistic to the period!

  • At 6:04 am , Blogger matty said...

    I was wondering what you'd think of it. I didn't go in with very high hopes because I saw the play back in the 80's and didn't think much of it.

    ...I think the film was very well shot, tho. All of the technical aspects were great. Exceptional editing! ...and, the lighting rocked.

    And, it was interesting to see a film audience get so worked up by one number. ...but, as I've written, the same thing happened when I saw it on stage.

    And, yeah, they were far too easy on Miss Ross (whom I do love, but know she must not be a very nice person) ...it was wrong to make the Berry Gordy character the total bad guy of the piece. ...he did not rule MoTown alone. LOL!

  • At 8:33 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I haven't seen the film but I recognize an excellent review when I read one. I have to say that Hollywood's persistent adherence to "happy ending syndrom" ruins 8 out of 10 US films for me.. Karen and I sat through "The Day After Tomorrow" on Sunday night... it wasn't bad but then came the utterly stupid happy ending: hundreds of survivors on all the NY rooftops, the US still retaining huge military power to mobilize itself despite being a displaced nation... blah blah. They just can't deal with real life - and sometimes real life is an uncompromising bitch!

  • At 10:51 am , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Tim - Beyonce is actually very good in the singing stakes although the "Listen" track is a tad anachronistic.

    Matty - Yes I thought of your previous comments - like you I didn't think it was brilliant. Was the film very similar to the play? Did the Deena/Diana character get such an easy deal in the play as well as the film? It goes back to what I said about sugaring the pill, why are they so scared to portray someone as an out and out bitch? Erm...come to think of it, because the real Diana Ross might sue, perhaps.

    Steve - I agree with you about the ending thing - very annoying. I liked "The Day After Tomorrow", don't remember that ending but it sure sounds stooopid. Like "Independence Day" the US just love to portray themselves as this wonderful, upstanding nation who will triumph come what may - and save the world no less!! (Remember the US President's gung-ho attack on the alien craft??) Yes we owe it all to the good old US of A!! Honestly!!

    Sorry Matty! Slagging off your home country...!!

  • At 12:59 pm , Blogger Lost Boy said...

    Then ending takes the same ending as the musical, unfortunately. Originally, before the musical went into production, Effie was to die at the end of Act One but the woman lined up to play her objected and the revised musical was born. I've not seen the movie but from the clips, Beyoncé looks like a plank of wood but Jennifer Hudson looks like one to watch.

  • At 1:47 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Lost Boy - That's a birrova cop-out them changing the ending just cos the actress objected!! Talk about bowing to pressure.

    Beyonce is not as bad as all that - it's just not a strong enough role to get her teeth into really. A bland part to play. Jennifer H blows everyone else off the screen anyway. A bit of a farce that she didn't win American Idol but hopefully now we'll get to see more of her talent.

  • At 2:52 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Wow, I never knew the ending change about the bway musical. That's interesting.

    But, yeah, I thought the film was fairly faithful to the play. Eddie Murphy's role seemed a bit bigger. But, it was sooooo long ago that I saw it.

    However, even back then I thought they were way to easy on Miss Ross. ...I'm thinking it was the "She and her rich tycoon husband will sue our ass!" factor the caused that.

    I think Beyonce was fine. It wasn't like she had a lot to work with. And, Diana Ross was always about just looking perfect anyway. ...which I do so love.

    Seems like she once said something about only wanting to wear pretty clothes and being in the spotlight. Or, maybe that is a fabrication. But, that seems to sum her up.

  • At 9:37 am , Blogger Minge said...

    Thank you so much for this. I really enjoyed reading your review.

    I've heard so many mixed reviews now, I'm actually frightened (after initial excitement) to go and see the movie.

    Damn Hollywood!

  • At 12:40 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Thank you kindly Mr Minge!!

    Well, it's really not that bad a film. The good balances out the bad. But yes, Hollywood has this habit of getting hold of everything and tainting it. Perhaps wait for it to come out on rental DVD if you ain't sure, sugar.


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